There’s an ongoing feud in the eCommerce digital marketing world. It’s the battle of creativity vs. data-driven decision making. And it’s being fought by brand marketers and SEO strategists.
The disagreement stems from two different approaches to the biggest problem facing eCommerce brands today: the struggle to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
What is Branding?
Branding refers to the act of shaping a company’s tone, voice, messaging, offer, and visual presence in such a way that clients and customers can recognize said company’s work or products even if it’s not explicitly stated that it’s their work or products.
What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to the art of optimizing a website’s landing pages, performance, and content to achieve high rankings on Search Engines (like Bing and Google) for queries clients and customers of a particular company are looking for.
Do Branding and SEO Go Well Together?
When done right, brand positioning can help boost SEO efforts and work with SEO in unison to achieve both the development of a distinguishable online identity as well as a constant passive acquisition funnel from informative content.
- SEO can help identify branded queries that the company itself did not know customers were asking.
- SEO can help identify in-demand content gaps between the brand and its competitors, as well as untapped content ideas.
- SEO’s ultimate goal is to build topical search engine authority. In order to do so, a website also needs to have market authority.
- Off-site SEO relies on word of mouth marketing, directory listing, building partnerships, and helping a brand establish an online digital footprint.
Brand positioning is also important for SEO, and not just vice versa. An already established brand has a higher chance of getting more rankings faster than a new business. An already established brand also already has a lot going for it: from partner agencies, to hundreds if not thousands of customer reviews, years of learning from user feedback, and much more that SEOs can use to craft the absolute best search strategy catered to the brand’s unique needs.
When done incorrectly, SEOs and brand marketers rip the company apart, pulling each in their own direction and achieving no progress.
Brand marketers vs. SEO strategists
Brand marketers use creativity in website copy to help businesses stand out from the competition and get attention. This shareable, story-centered content tends to do well on social platforms and in raising brand awareness.
SEO strategists use data – keyword search volume and insights from how their customers search for their products – to help companies stand out in search results and drive organic traffic to eCommerce pages.
Each approach has its place, depending on your end goal. But for most businesses, the bottom line is, well, their bottom line. And likes and shares don’t pay the shipping bills.
At Fire&Spark, we love data. And the data shows that organic search drives 51 percent of traffic to B2B and B2C websites. Social only accounts for 5 percent of website traffic.
Since organic search represents some of the most motivated and qualified consumers – visitors that are most likely to convert to buyers and return again – it makes sense to design your website copy around that data.
How customers start their journey
The disagreement between brand marketers and SEO strategists boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding of how consumers search for products and find brands.
Most web searches start with the consumer looking for a solution to their problem. Unless they know the exact brand name and product they want, they use product features to find what they’re looking for. “Men’s green linen joggers,” “raw organic dog food” or “yellow ceramic teacups.”
That’s where the brand marketing approach falls short.
Brand marketers often title products and web pages with creative, brand-focused terms. But since the creative labels are rarely an accurate description of the product, search engines don’t deliver those product pages in search results.
You could have a best-in-class product, but if you don’t label it correctly, no one will find it.
That’s why the keywords SEO strategists target in product pages aren’t brand focused. Instead, they’re representative of how customers really think about products.
Let’s see what these approaches look like in the real world.
Why does Data Matter for eCommerce more than Branding?
There are over 8,000 monthly searches for women’s crossbody bags. But even though the product page below is for a women’s crossbody bag, it’s unlikely to show up well in search. The reason?
It’s optimized for creativity, not for traffic. The page looks good but it’s missing the vital keyword signposts that tell Google what the page is about, helping it to show up well for those search terms.
In other terms, the above product isn’t qualified to rank for the term “crossbody bag”, it’s qualified to rank for “cameron street”. If there is any volume to that keyword, it’s unlikely that the users looking it up are qualified for an apparel eCommerce purchase.
And the qualified users who do end up on the page? They’ll have a tough time figuring out if the product is even what they’re looking for, since the only references to crossbody are buried in the product description.
Then there’s this excellent example of a ‘Definite Do.’
Macy’s has implemented all the best SEO practices for a product page. Notice the list of relevant keywords they used in the description:
- Rose Gold
- Stainless Steel Bracelet
- Touchscreen Smart Watch
These terms embody how a consumer would search for a product – by features, not by name.
The problem with Overbranding
Often, the reason eCommerce brands fail on search is “overbranding” – aka, focusing on using brand-specific lingo and jargon so much that the website starts ranking for the wrong terms and showing up to the wrong audiences.
But overbranding is not only a problem for SEO – it’s a problem for brand positioning in general, as it’s easy for new users to get lost, confused, and discouraged. If your product listings, descriptions, and collection pages are all metaphors – and none of them tell the users what the items they’re looking at actually are – how can you expect them to convert and actually buy something?
On the other hand, though, there is also a thing called over-optimization. If all of your on-site copy is keyword-targeted, and none of it is actually persuading the customer to shop, then there’s really no sales aspect to your site, and nothing to distinguish it. It is merely an encyclopedia of whatever it is you’re selling.
The middle ground between branding and SEO is SEO branding.
What is SEO branding?
SEO branding refers to supplementing your branding efforts with SEO. From product names, to slogans, catchphrases and taglines, and your overall storytelling approach – SEO can help your branding team craft the perfect brand messaging that will make your business stand out among competitors, but also be searchable and legible for new customers.
Let’s be clear: we’re not suggesting scrubbing your product pages of the unique voice that makes your brand special. But if you want to tap into valuable, organic search traffic, the intent of your page needs to be searchable. That starts with optimizing your pages and choosing data-driven clarity over cleverness.
Creativity may win awards and likes, but clarity wins organic traffic, sales and repeat visits.
Find the balance that gets the best results for your business—talk to one of our SEO experts today!